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Dynamics of hydrological and geomorphological processes in evaporite karst at the eastern Dead Sea – a multidisciplinary study

Al-Halbouni, Djamil; Watson, Robert A.; Holohan, Eoghan P.; Meyer, Rena; Polom, Ulrich; Santos, Fernando M. Dos; Comas, Xavier; Alrshdan, Hussam; Krawczyk, Charlotte M.; Dahm, Torsten

Karst groundwater systems are characterized by the presence of multiple porosity types. Of these, subsurface conduits that facilitate concentrated, heterogeneous flow are challenging to resolve geologically and geophysically. This is especially the case in evaporite karst systems, such as those present on the shores of the Dead Sea, where rapid geomorphological changes are linked to a fall in base level by over 35 m since 1967. Here we combine field observations, remote-sensing analysis, and multiple geophysical surveying methods (shear wave reflection seismics, electrical resistivity tomography, ERT, self-potential, SP, and ground-penetrating radar, GPR) to investigate the nature of subsurface groundwater flow and its interaction with hypersaline Dead Sea water on the rapidly retreating eastern shoreline, near Ghor Al-Haditha in Jordan. Remote-sensing data highlight links between the evolution of surface stream channels fed by groundwater springs and the development of surface subsidence patterns over a 25-year period. ERT and SP data from the head of one groundwater-fed channel adjacent to the former lakeshore show anomalies that point to concentrated, multidirectional water flow in conduits located in the shallow subsurface (< 25 m depth). ERT surveys further inland show anomalies that are coincident with the axis of a major depression and that we interpret as representing subsurface water flow. Low-frequency GPR surveys reveal the limit between unsaturated and saturated zones (< 30 m depth) surrounding the main depression area. Shear wave seismic reflection data nearly 1 km further inland reveal buried paleochannels within alluvial fan deposits, which we interpret as pathways for groundwater flow from the main wadi in the area towards the springs feeding the surface streams. Finally, simulations of density-driven flow of hypersaline and undersaturated groundwaters in response to base-level fall perform realistically if they include the generation of karst conduits near the shoreline. The combined approaches lead to a refined conceptual model of the hydrological and geomorphological processes developed at this part of the Dead Sea, whereby matrix flow through the superficial aquifer inland transitions to conduit flow nearer the shore where evaporite deposits are encountered. These conduits play a key role in the development of springs, stream channels and subsidence across the study area.
Published in: Developments in the Built Environment, 10.5194/hess-25-3351-2021, EGU